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April 26, 2002
Notes from the Pentagon

Bear H intercept
Two Russian strategic nuclear bombers flew within 37 miles of Alaska recently in a rare probe of U.S. air defenses, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

The Tu-95 Bear H bombers were part of a group of four bombers that deployed recently to the military air base near Anadyr, a port in the northern Far East of Russia. The bombers can carry up to 16 Kh-55 strategic cruise missiles, which are equipped with 200-kiloton nuclear warheads.

The bombers flew north along the coast of Alaska. The Air Force scrambled two F-15 jet fighters to intercept the propeller-driven bombers. The F-15s shadowed the bombers for a short distance and then broke off.

It was the first time since September 11 that the Russian military made a run at U.S. air defenses. Russian military forces in the Far East were involved in strategic nuclear forces exercises when the terrorist attacks occurred. They halted the maneuvers, which U.S. military intelligence expected would have included air defense probes like the one that occurred recently.

The Russian bomber probe took place as U.S. and Russian officials in Moscow failed to reach the terms of a new accord on strategic arms reduction. It also took place amid recent criticism by officials in Moscow of U.S. intelligence-sharing on terrorism.

Viktor Komogorov, deputy director of Russia's Federal Security Service, formerly the domestic branch of the Soviet KGB, said Russia provided the CIA with 100 reports in February but received only 50 from the agency, the Interfax news agency reported. He criticized the CIA report as "bare facts" and said Russia's reports included terrorist plans and intentions. "This is not the kind of cooperation in resisting international terrorism that we had counted on," he said, noting that Russian requests for more U.S. intelligence were denied.

Misleading video
Several intelligence analysts have reached the conclusion that the latest tape of Osama bin Laden was purposely made to look recent, but in fact was made months ago.

The CIA has not made an official assessment. But most who have seen the tape believe it was made weeks after the September 11 attacks on America, but before the war in Afghanistan began Oct. 7.

Last week, the Arab-language Al Jazeera televised the latest tape of bin Laden, who appeared to be sitting outside, next to his top aide, Egyptian surgeon Ayman al Zawahiri. The tape was part of a "documentary" on bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network.

Analysts believe a tape meant to look recent is, in fact, old for several reasons.

In the last-known dated tape of bin Laden made in early December, he appears thin, gray and emotionally stressed. His left arm remains motionless during the entire 33-minute production. His voice is weak.

In the Al Jazeera tape, he appears plump, less gray and composed. His left arm moves freely. "He looks better in that tape than the one we know about in December," said one official.

Also, if the tape were more recent, bin Laden likely would have referred to current events in the news, which he does not.

Some film analysts believe the backdrop of grass, a stream and mountains was dubbed into the tape to make the date appear as spring.

Now, the big question is why would al Qaeda supporters go to so much trouble to try to prove to the world that bin Laden is alive and healthy? Some analysts conclude the effort means bin Laden is incapacitated or perhaps dead.

Bush's four D's
President Bush has adopted a catchy slogan for defeating terrorism, says Linda Flohr, the deputy national coordinator for terrorism on the White House National Security Council.

Miss Flohr told a classified conference of intelligence officials last month that the president is focused on the "Four D's" of counterterrorism: Defend the United States; Diminish the causes of terrorism; Deny sanctuary for terrorists; and Defeat terrorism. The biggest problem for U.S. intelligence today, she said, is figuring out how to convert intelligence obtained overseas into action that will allow federal authorities to catch foreign terrorists operating in the United States.

One big problem is the continuing failure of the CIA and FBI to share intelligence. Miss Flohr said the Bush administration is adopting a new term, "federal family," to describe what has been known as the U.S. intelligence community, made up of 13 spy agencies. The federal family includes agencies of government that were shut out of intelligence in the past, such as the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the U.S. Customs Service.

Miss Flohr said the administration is also considering creation of another bureaucratic intelligence structure, a national threat assessment center. The most pressing problem for intelligence? The intelligence community needs to do a better job of predicting intelligence attacks against the United States, she said.

Anaconda Marines
Some Marine Corps aviators are saying the best performing choppers in Operation Anaconda were Marine Cobras, not the Army's front-line AH-64 Apaches.

"I know they got a lot of press, but two days after we arrived, an AH-64 did not fly in that objective area again, and it became our show," said one Marine aviator. "We got credit for a lot of targets found and destroyed. We were able to find something new to shoot at every single time we went there and could still be killing targets if we had not come back to the boat."

Al Qaeda fighters pummeled the Apaches with small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. None crashed, but some were knocked out of commission.

Terrifying pictures

We obtained an album of photographs taken by a Navy SEAL commando team as it scoured the Zawar Kili terrorism camp in January. The photos show a maze of caves, brick-lined tunnels, living quarters and classrooms from which Osama bin Laden ran part of the al Qaeda terror network.

There were stacks of ammunition reaching 8-foot-high ceilings, box after box of mortar rounds in briefcase-style containers, and assorted tank munitions.

One picture showed an apartment deep inside a cave complex, complete with a kitchen, bedding, wall decorations and furniture. The SEALs labeled one package "possible heroin stash."

Another photo shows a SEAL walking through what appears to be a brick tunnel connecting two caves. An electric power line runs along the wall.

Another scene appears to be of a classroom, with cloth pictures on the wall showing drawings of various types of ordnance and mines.

Rummy's boy, continued
Lawrence DiRita, a special assistant to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, wrote us to say that Stephen Cambone, a top policy official, in fact has some defense experience beyond his staff participation on two special commissions on missile threats and space.

Mr. DiRita said it was an "odd assertion" by us that Mr. Cambone had no defense experience, because he had worked from 1990 to 1993 as director of strategic defense policy for Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney. He also did some academic work at the National Defense University.

The item told of how some senior military officers dislike Mr. Cambone's combative style during staff meetings and briefings. Mr. Cambone, who is principal deputy under the secretary of defense for policy, has led the charge to cut troop strength and weapons. His efforts dismay some generals and admirals who believe such reductions would increase the risk of more war casualties.

Mr. DiRita stated: "Change agents bring change, and that is understandably unsettling to some." But Mr. Cambone's friends still like him, he noted.

  • Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at

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